Fri, Aug 06, 2004 - Page 4 News List

Smuggled animals from China could pose rabies risk

HEALTH THREAT Although Taiwan has been free of rabies for decades, animals smuggled from China's coastal provinces could infect pets and even humans

By Chiu Yu-Tzu  /  STAFF REPORTER

The smuggling of pet dogs and cats from China -- where the number of rabies-related deaths has increased dramatically this summer -- is a threat to Taiwan, a rabies-free country, the Council of Agriculture said yesterday.

According to the council's Bureau of Animal and Plant Health Inspection and Quarantine, the death toll from rabies in China has been increasing since 1998. Last year the disease claimed 1,980 lives in China, almost double the amount who died in 2002. So far, the epidemic has spread to 190 counties in China. In the first five months of this year alone, 27 new counties were added to the list of affected areas. Last year, rabies spread to 30 new counties.

"Most affected areas are in the coastal provinces, which are potential sources of smuggled goods to Taiwan," Huang Kwo-ching (黃國青), director of the bureau's Animal Health Inspection Department, told the Taipei Times.

Rabies affects the central nervous system of unvaccinated animals that are exposed to the virus, and is invariably fatal to them.

It is also fatal to humans in the absence of timely medical treatment. Humans typically contract the disease through being bitten by an infected animal.

Huang said that early this year, dozens of smuggled rare-breed dogs were seized by the coast guard in Taiwan proper, as well as Kinmen and Matsu counties.

They were killed without being processed for health examinations that could help keep the country from being threatened by rabies and other animal diseases.

Officials said that animal-smuggling might be dangerous not only to the nation's domesticated dogs and cats, but also to its people.

Rabies is raging in China because of the public's ignorance about disease, their carelessness around animals and the low vaccination rate for dogs, officials said.

"Taiwanese residents should be smart enough not to purchase pet dogs and cats from unidentified sources," Huang said.

"We also encourage people to report cases of animal-smuggling."

Although rabies has not appeared in Taiwan for decades, the public should remain vigilant, Huang said.

"In addition to boycotting smuggled dogs and cats, pet owners in Taiwan should have their pets vaccinated annually to prevent rabies," Huang said.

Rabies was imported to Taiwan from Shanghai in 1947. Government statistics show that 491 human rabies deaths were reported between 1948 and 1958.

The last case of human death involving rabies in this country was reported in 1961.

To prevent infectious disease outbreaks, the Council of Agriculture has established a hotline for people to report cases of animal-smuggling. The number is 0800-039-131.

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